When some think of the early settlements in America, the first places that come to mind are Jamestown, founded in 1607, and Plymouth, Mass., which was founded in 1620.
But long before the pilgrims arrived in the new world, a few settlers departed the harsh environment that was Jamestown and ventured out to find a better place to live.
Sir Thomas Dale led the expedition in 1611 and the group settled in the Citie of Henricus. That site later became Henrico County and was eventually split where the area below the James River constituted Chesterfield County.
The colony also boasted the first hospital in the English domain in America. Additionally, the settlement was located near the area where Pocahontas grew up and eventually lived with her husband, settler Thomas Wolfe.
While the settlement is long gone, there’s a place in nearby Chester to learn and witness the settlers’ experience. It’s the living history museum at Henricus Historical Park.
Located at 251 Henricus Park Road in Chester – off exit 61A on I-95 – the park is situated within the 810-acre Dutch Gap Conservation Area. The cost of admission to the museum is $8 for adults and $6 for children ages 3-12. Members are free. There is a $1 discount for active and retired military. The hours of operations are Tuesday - Sunday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
There are two ways to experience Henricus, said Charles L. Grant, Henricus Historical Park executive director.
“The admission fee includes a self-guided tour of our living-history museum with costumed interpreters in our re-created English Settlement and Indian Village,” he said. “We serve nearly 30,000 school children each year, so our interpreters are able to share their knowledge with children as well as adults. Henricus is proud to be a Blue Star Museum and will offer free admission to military members and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year.”
The area also offers a way to enjoy the outdoors that is free and open to the public. There is a 4.5 mile trail for walking or biking, fishing docks, bird watching and picnic tables located near the historic site and on the bluff overlooking the James River.
The site also features frequent events, which can be found on its website at www.henricus.org.
“We hold many events at Henricus throughout the year that appeal to a wide audience,” said Grant. “There are summer camps for children and events that highlight 17th century activities, such as military tactics, crimes and punishments, and cooking. A popular annual event in September is Publick Days, and we’ll have the pleasure of Godspeed, (a ship) from Jamestown Settlement, joining us this year. During Publick Days, we have a huge contingent of interpreters both in the English Settlement as well as the Indian Village to speak with visitors. Admission is free for everyone during Publick Days.
“Another event that has become quite popular is our annual Hops in the Park in November where local craft breweries provide beer with Virginia-grown ingredients for sale,” he continued. “Live music, food trucks and a farmer’s market all add to the festive atmosphere. All proceeds to this event benefit our Children’s Education Fund.”
These events present history in a way that visitors can become immersed with the 17th century and learn about the origins of the country, said Grant.
“It’s much more interesting than just reading a text book,” he said. “We also provide one of the few re-created Indian villages in Virginia. The surrounding conservation area also offers visitors a chance to experience nature and the outdoors.”
The Indian village is also one of the park’s most popular locations.
“While the entire living history museum is very interesting because there are so many stories being told from so many different perspectives, the Indian site of Arrohateck is definitely our largest single draw,” said Grant. “This is especially true right now as we observe and commemorate the extraordinary life of Pocahontas, who died in 1617 in Gravesend, England. Each school year, something like 70 percent of the students come to Henricus specifically to learn about Pocahontas and life for Powhatan Indians 400 years ago when contact with English colonists first occurred en masse.”
So, for anyone looking for a fun historical experience, look no further than the Henricus Historical Park, said Grant.
“Our living history museum offers an in-depth view into what life was like for early settlers of the New World and those who were already there,” he said. “The depth of knowledge of our interpreters is amazing and Henricus, combined with Dutch Gap Conservation Area, offers an inexpensive way to learn, exercise and enjoy general recreation. It truly has become a destination attraction.
“We’re delighted and honored to be able to bring the story of early Virginia’s beginnings to life for our area,” Grant continued. “We often concentrate so much of our energy nationally to understanding later episodes of American history that we forget what a precarious beginning our nation had.”